I am spoilt. It’s true, I have marvellous invitations to eat, sample, savour the most delightful foods across the globe. Spicy dishes from Asia, decadent plates from Europe, comfort food in the USA. Yes, the best of everything has been generously offered and greatly appreciated. But then there is culinary tradition – and that’s another matter. For that we have Cinnamon Club!
Perhaps my dear reader is moving towards the edge of his/her chair. Is this predictably positive writer going to be critical, spiteful, and disdainful of an afternoon tea that would seem, at first glance, to be pushing the envelope? Is she about to give Cinnamon Club a verbal pasting for tampering with such a British tradition? Is there the prospect of literary blood on walls? Settle back, loyal reader. All is well.
Cinnamon Club has never disappointed and it doesn’t now. The Game High Chai is, in fact, the most ‘traditional’ afternoon tea I have had in quite a while. I have had many teas but lots of them are too sweet, too frilly and too fussy. Cinnamon Club has been faithful, in my opinion, to the old-fashioned ethos of afternoon tea.
I broadly call this Afternoon Tea but it is actually, just as described, more of a High Tea, or in this case High Chai. This was always a light meal that had both sandwiches and savouries of various kinds as well as scones and a cake or two. A regular afternoon tea, on the other hand, was similar but without so many substantial savouries. These days there are fewer of the befores and too many of the afters. The sweets are more often than not more like desserts than old-fashioned cakes.
The top plate of the 3-tier stand holds the savoury selection of Bengali-spiced Grouse and Beetroot Puff along with a Bombay-style Venison Burger in Cumin Brioche. They are a great and flavourful partnership. The venison is moist with a chilli heat. The grouse and beetroot is a sweeter item with a flaky and light pastry. That sounds like a very Indian start, but consider this: India has had no game hunting for decades although it was a popular pastime, but it’s always been a very British pursuit; so we already see tradition.
The centre plate offers sandwiches. These are not delicate fingers of crustless and insubstantial bread but proper slices from a real loaf that hold the robust fillings of Tandoori Partridge and Chutney, and Pickled Vegetables and Chutney. Both were delicious but the vegetable filling was a triumph. It was not over sharp and acted as palate cleanser before the sweet treats on the final platter.
It’s seldom that I have managed to finish a Tea and it’s usually that last sweet hurdle that defeats me. Obviously it’s a matter of taste and I know that lots of folks consider this the highlight of the culinary event, but I am all about tradition. Victorian Teatime offered cakes rather than luminous mousses, buttercream rather than spectacular foams. There were usually some small sponges, and a cake or two to cut – Battenburg and Madeira, for instance, reflected our culinary history.
Cinnamon Club has Spiced Carrot and Ginger Toffee Pudding. This would be just the thing to nibble in a Victorian library. Scones with Pumpkin Chutney was a delicious surprise. The chutney was sweet but well-spiced – a great innovation. The Fresh Cream and Seasonal Fruit Pastry on this day was a light sponge with pineapple. Nothing too rich, nothing too cheffy, but everything thoughtfully presented, with combinations that respected tradition, and everything garnished with Indian flair and imagination.
But High Tea should also include, well, tea. Chai, as expected, is available and that’s always good but there is another option that is stylish and refreshing. Why not try a tea created by Lalani & Co. The menu includes Spring Reserve (Black) 2013; LaKyrsiew Garden, Meghalaya, India; Jade Mountain Oolong, ‘The Honey Special’ 2013; Ms Huang’s Garden, Jade Mountain, Taiwan; 2nd Flush Grand Reserve 2013; or Makaibari Garden, Darjeeling, India. I suggest that you taste these without milk and perhaps without sugar. These teas are as far from your regular teabag teas as you can get.
Cinnamon Club Game High Chai is served from Monday to Saturday, 3pm to 5.30pm. It costs £20 per person, £32 including a glass of Champagne. It’s available between 8th September and 31st October and is usually taken in The Library Bar.
The Old Westminster Library,
30-32 Great Smith Street,
London SW1P 3BU
Phone: 020 7222 2555
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018